TED Conversations

Rachel Armstrong

The University of Greenwich


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This Live Conversation with TED Fellow Rachel Armstrong will open on February 8th, 2012 at 1pm EST, 6pm UK time.
Join the conversation as Rachel discusses her view on ecological humans and city 2.0.

We are not machines but Ecological Humans. We depend on our networks for survival, like an oak tree in the forest, being made up of highly interacting and interdependent systems. For example, eating is not simply consuming ‘fuel’ to feed our body-machine but is a mutual relationship shared between our gut bacteria, our food and our bodies (which, in turn, are highly interconnected assemblages of specialised tissues). The way that we see ourselves influences the way that we operate through the world in all aspects of our lives - from health, to business and even space exploration!

Ecological Humans, imagine the City 2.0 as being grown from the bottom-up by its communities. It is underpinned by highly interacting and interdependent networks, which use dynamic fabrics that behave in life-like ways. These buildings can be described as Living Architecture that are capable of responding to the changes in our dynamic cities as only real ecologies can.


Will The City 2.0 be qualitatively different to modern cities? Or pragmatically, can the transition only be made as a series of incremental changes? What can we do to facilitate this transition?

What does being an Ecological Human mean to me? Can it help me find new or more effective ways of working?

Can we rely on biology to provide all the answers when it comes to sustainable building solutions? Is life a technology - and should we exploit it in the pursuit of more sustainable ways of building?


Closing Statement from Rachel Armstrong

Thank you so much everyone for joining me today and taking time to comment and share your thoughts. What an amazing set of discussion threads have begun! I am excited about how the TED Prize winner City 2.0, will turn out - which is the event that inspired the context for this discussion. Perhaps, beyond the immediate context of near-future cities - the idea of being an Ecological Human may help us imagine ourselves and the world around us differently. Maybe we can use this way of imagining the world so that we can find truly sustainable solutions for the places we live in. We could possibly also use this approach to help others understand what being 'ecological' might mean. Perhaps this way of looking at the world may have applications in other areas of our lives such as, in the workplace. So, again - a really warm 'thank you' everyone for taking time out to share your thoughts with me and offer your perspectives. If you would like to find out more about Living Architecture you may like to buy my TED Book http://www.ted.com/pages/tedbooks, which is available from Amazon.com, Apple's iBookstore, and is also on the Nook platform.

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    Feb 8 2012: What is the role of biology in our twenty first century cities? Will we have space for native biology if we're not only going to see one third again more people in urban environments, living more densely and with more people moving from rural to city lifestyles. Can biology be viewed as a technology that can help us generate more sustainable solutions for city living spaces? These kind of questions may be addressed best by the practice of a new kind of science called synthetic biology. Most of us will equate synthetic biology with genetic modification - which is something that I do not do myself. But is it more broad than this - certainly the way that I personally view synthetic biology. I consider this science as being the way that we design and engineer with nature and living systems. In other words using a set of tools and materials that are Ecological in their very nature. Machine based tools need to be checked and adapted for their ecological compatibility because they constitute a barrier between human design and the natural world - but biological systems share a common language with nature through the laws of physics and chemistry. In my TED Book Living Architecture http://www.ted.com/pages/tedbooks I describe the range of these kinds of interventions that range from agrarian techniques to biotechnology. They constitute a powerful portfolio of possible ways of shaping our living quarters. Because they are powerful they need to be considered carefully but they do offer us something new and different to machines. Modern architecture finds the biological system too slow for its liking. But if we really do find some of the properties such as, robustness flexibility, the ability to deal with the unexpected and the capacity for surprise valuable then there are a new range of opportunities (and challenges - which include ethical ones) available to us.
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      Feb 8 2012: Let's be sure to incorporate Algae technologies for Carbon Capture and Wastewater treatment into our cities to make them truly sustainable.
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      Feb 8 2012: Hi Rachel,

      Here's a thought - http://www.facebook.com/pages/Fractal-Planning-Solutions-Ltd/109017094107?ref=share

      It's basically a fractal spatial framework for urban development which is generated through principles of cellular growth... it's also capable of synthesising a "web" of natural habitat into the fabric of any proposed settlement.

      Also, just worth noting that it can be adapted to site specific configurations (as illustrated in presentation doc's available at the link above), and is intended to provide a background "matrix" for urban design rather than a prescriptive development plan.


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